Giving children antibiotics for an ear infection could make them more vulnerable to similar infections in future, a new study has found. The researchers say that antibiotics should be used more carefully.
What do we know already?
Ear infections are one of the most common childhood illnesses, affecting almost all children at some point. Simple painkillers, like paracetamol, are the standard treatment.
Antibiotics help children get better more quickly, but there are downsides. These include potential side effects for the child, like diarrhoea, and also a wider risk that bacteria will evolve resistance to commonly used antibiotics, creating 'superbugs' that can't be easily treated.
At the moment, doctors are advised to offer antibiotics to children under 2 and to those with more severe infections. However, not much is known about the long-term consequences of giving antibiotics. A new study followed 168 children for 3 years after treatment to see what the after effects might be.
What does the new study say?
Children who took antibiotics for an ear infection had a higher risk of further infections over the next 3 years.
In the group of children who were originally treated with antibiotics, 63 in 100 went on to get another ear infection. Only 43 in 100 children got another infection if they'd been given an inactive placebo.
There are a couple of possible explanations for the results. Antibiotics could kill off some of the weaker bacteria causing the infection, leaving more space for tougher, antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow. It's also possible that killing bacteria with antibiotics means less work for a child's immune system, leading to weaker protection from infections in future.